NORTH BILLERICA — It’s a universal term of endearment for a young player — particularly a freshman — who is good enough to make, and play for, his or her high school varsity team.
Technically, Tristan Bradley still qualifies. The ninth grade goaltender for Swampscott High is soft spoken, deferential to his older teammates and stands all of 5-foot-9 and about 140 pounds.
But during the biggest win in program history last night, the puppy became a Big Dog.
The Big Blue are off to their first-ever Division 3 North title game after scoring three times in the final 121 seconds last night to upset their arch rivals from Marblehead, 4-1, at the Chelmsford Forum — and Bradley was a huge reason why.
It wasn’t just that he stopped 24 shots; it was both how and when he stopped them. It was standing tall in the face of constant pressure, with players 60, 70 or even 80 pounds heavier than he crashing his net, hungry for the rebounds that never came. It was keeping his team within striking distance when the rival Headers dictated play for much of the first two periods, both in terms of puck possession and physicality. It was Bradley seemingly impervious to the pressure that surrounded him, simply doing what he’s done since he first strapped on the pads at just 3 years old.
“I’ve never played in a game this big in my life ... so yeah, I’m feeling pretty good,” said the 15-year old Bradley. “I felt like I was in a zone from the first period on.”
Gino Faia, the former Swampscott High player who has not only guided his team to the most wins in school history (17) but also two games away from playing for a state title, may have had the understatement of the season when he said Bradley didn’t play like the freshman he actually is. Stepping up his play in practice the last few weeks (”Tristan’s been on fire lately,” said Faia) has only helped his confidence in the actual games.